As everybody reading SSO knows, behind every great man is another (complete with prophylactic presumably). But in the case of the Smart ForFour, there are two.
Because lurking underneath that funky Euro exterior, with its trademark Smart exoskeletal body cell and replaceable clip-on plastic bits, is a Mercedes and Mitsubishi lovechild. Or, to put it another way, the ForFour (it’s for four see; the other Smart sedan, a two-seater, is ForTwo) springs from the same gene pool as the Mitsu Colt and new Benz A-class. Granted, all do look different but share common bits below. Like 90210’s fraternal twins Brenda and Brandon Walsh. In fact the Dutch factory that builds the ForFour also cobbles up Colts.
Smart is chasing Honda Jazz, Peugeot 206, VW Polo, Ford Fiesta and Renault Clio buyers although the $24K for the 1.3 and the $26K 1.5 tested here puts the ForFour perilously into the next segment up. So what we’re left with is a Holden Barina-sized baby for Holden Astra cash. Now that doesn’t seem too Smart.
And yes, if the 3.75 metre ForFour’s physicalities and capacities seem too small then you’re probably a size queen so go for the bigger stuff instead. But for some people, petite is paradise, particularly if parking space is at a premium. Here’s where the Smart makes plenty of sense.
For one thing, the responsive steering results in zippy manoeuvrability and predictable handling, although its lack of feedback is disappointing. Furthermore, a 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine produces an eager 80kW of power and 145Nm of torque. Combined with the ForFour’s lightness (975kg), the outcome is a lusty little runabout with sparkling performance and a penchant for revving. It’s not the quietest motor ever though, but it is perfectly punchy. Add a light and slick five-speed manual trannie and you have a hatch that won’t easily run out of puff on the open road. Plus the fuel economy’s impressive too.
Aided by a host of electronic super nannies such as strong and effective anti-lock brakes and stability control, power is fed to the front wheels in a smooth and orderly manner. This also means there’s optimum amount of grip so the roadholding is both balanced and secure. About the only dynamic downside is an overly firm ride over Australia’s crappy roads. There’s just not enough built-in bump absorption.
Refinement levels also suffer from too much engine noise entering the cabin. But that’s minor stuff really. For many, the Smart’s contrasting colours, exaggerated wheel arches, circular stacked tail-lights and plastic front and rear panels add real automotive personality.
Likewise inside, thanks to stylistic flourishes like the twin-pod instrumentation that stand proud like Anastasia Beaverhausen’s proverbials, fabric dash covering and textured shapes and hues. Meanwhile the lashings of metal-like trim accents suggest a minimalist approach to the cabin’s presentation.
In fact there’s nothing really missing, while the efficient way everything works, from the classy heater and audio controls, suggests that Smart has ticked all the essential boxes. Space-wise none of the four occupants is likely to complain either (unless the rear seat ones are very tall) because both rows slide and recline. With the split/ fold rear bench fully back, there is a drop in luggage capacity, however, but it’s still reasonably accommodating. The comfy front pews (that oddly don’t recline beyond halfway) and the steering column adjust for a commanding driving position, which enhances vision and therefore the Smart’s city-friendliness. Clever.
As one might expect for the steep mid-20s pricing, there’s plenty of kit standard, including front and side airbags, the aforementioned driver safety gear, air-con, (front-only) power windows, steering wheel audio controls, a thorough trip computer and keyless entry. But power mirrors and telescopic steering column adjustment are AWOL, the glovebox is tiny and there are no middle-rear seat belt facilities. Even token ones would be welcome occasionally.
But this is all beside the point. Smart’s ForFour is meant to be a youthful and distinctive take on the premium end of the baby car segment. While value isn’t really its strong suit and it doesn’t do anything better than any rival other than look cool, the ForFour is still surprisingly competent and refreshingly endearing to boot. And the fact that Mercedes-Benz is behind it isn’t too bad either.